Nary An Unpublished Thought







April 8, 2008: ACSWP Wants To Spend Green To Go Green

I can tell from my site statistics that the GAC material has either not been scintillating, or, it is just too remote a topic for people to care. The numbers of readers has dropped precipitously. I am hoping that the issue is my writing. I really do. Because if the decline in numbers is due to an unwillingness to engage the subject, then it should be expected that these recommendations will be rubber-stamped by commissioners and we will continue down the same road we are currently traveling.

Doesn't that sound like I am scolding those who are reading? It is like asking people who come to class, "Where is everyone?"

Perhaps the change in subject to ACSWP will make a difference.

Recommendation #5 is the first of the multiple ACSWP papers that are coming to this General Assembly. It is entitled, "The Power To Change: U.S. Energy Policy and Global Warming."

ACSWP (the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy -- pronounced A-C-SWaP) specializes in these kinds of papers. There are four different kinds of things ACSWP produces: policy statement, resolution, study document, or social engagement report.

There are four pages of recommendations about U.S. Energy Policy and Global Warming for the 218th General Assembly to approve -- and that's just in this one paper. There are recommendations to: 1) approve a study; 2) to urge individuals and families to do specific things; 3) to have governing bodies do things; and 4) to support lobbying for legislation. Here are some excerpts:

From the section about governing bodies, seeking approval that "...the 218th General Assembly (2008):

a. Urges synods and presbyteries to become models of energy-efficient institutions and proponents of renewable energy by:

(1) stocking resource centers with information about energy issues;

(2) working with the New Church Development Committee to ensure that all new and remodeled churches meet high-efficiency standards;

(3) strengthening support for Stewardship of Creation Enablers, inviting them to provide workshops on energy and related concerns, and consulting with them to provide carbon-neutral meeting sites and transportation plans whenever possible; ....

b. Urges the "Restoration Creation" program to establish a Presbyterian Green Energy Fund...

h. Urges Presbyterian-related seminaries and conference centers to make environmental education on global climate change and energy a part of their curricula; ...

From the section about lobbying for legislation, seeking approval that "...the 218th General Assembly (2008):

a. Endorses and approves the following principles and stances that will guide our church's advocacy work regarding policy discussions and legislative proposals to revise energy policy in the context of global climate change:


The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) supports comprehensive, mandatory, and aggressive emission reductions that aim to limit the increase in Earth's temerature to 2 degrees Celsius or less from pre-industrial levels. ...

In order to achieve these targets, we support legislative and policy proposals that:

1. Internalize the social and environmental costs related to greenhouse gas emissions in the price of fossil fuels. ...
2. Shift subsidies and financial incentives towards industries specializing in renewable energy and energy efficiency and away from the fossil fuel and nuclear power industries. ...
3. Adopt significantly increased efficiency standards for all energy consuming appliances, buildings, and vehicles.
4. Mandate that an increasing percentage of the nation's energy supply be produced renewably and sustainably. ...
6. Encourage decentrialized and distributed power generation.
7. Place a moratorium on all new coal-fired and nuclear power plants until related environmental concerns are addressed.
8. Limit exploration and exploitation of new fossil fuel supplies to parts of the nation where this can be done without adverse damage to people and the environment.

c. Directs the Stated Clerk, the Presbyterian Washington Office, the Presbyterian United Nations Office, the Environmental Justice Office, and other General Assembly representatives to advocate for this approach to national energy policy before Congress, the Executive branch, state legislatures, and regulatory agencies, including those specifically involved in the areas of climate change and international cooperation, with the goal of restoring the United States of America to a leadership position in taking responsibility for reducing the scale and speed of climate change.

OK, that's just an abstract of part the action proposed in this recommendation. It does not even begin to address the issues raised in the fourteen pages of the Study Document and six pages of sourcing and citing that follow.

There's no point getting into the substance of the environmental debate and what is the best approach to environmental policy. It would take months to go line-by-line through this information. Given the amount of other business they have to handle, commissioners may have about an hour to deal with the entirety of the report.

So, instead of my tackling the environment, let me deal with a couple of other thoughts:

First, with all due respect to the ACSWP people who were simply fulfilling a task they were assigned (albeit one that they wanted to be assigned), it is likely that it took more energy to produce these recommendations than the recommendations are likely to save. Generating the paper will have had a more direct impact on the environment than the policies proposed.

This task was assigned in 2002, and the ACSWP group has been working on it since. Think about the carbon footprint, paper and electrons used. How many meetings? How many airplane flights, hotel rooms, meeting spaces, phone conferences, paper copies, and other materials were used in the drafting, re-drafting, and completion of this study and recommendations? As for the recommendations, with limited budgets and limited space, how many presbyteries are going to create Climate Resource Centers in the presbytery office? Who is going to drive to go visit? Are people really turning to the church and denominational offices for a thorough analysis of climate issues? Won't we just Google it?

Second, a seminary class for environmental concerns? Are we really asking the GA to recommend requiring courses in Greek, Hebrew, New Testament, Old Testament, and the E.P.A. for an M.Div.? (Or, are we suggesting we ought to include "creation" science in the curriculum?)

Third -- and most relevant in evaluating whether to support, amend or reject this paper -- the question has to be, "Can we afford what it proposes?"

It is one thing to urge people to be responsible stewards of creation, it is another thing to direct employees of the denomination to take on the responsibility and expense of lobbying for environmental issues. Or to create a "Presbyterian Green Energy Fund." In a perfect world where financial resources are not an issue, this might be possible. In the context of major budget cuts for programs and the incredible decline in the number of missionaries commissioned, can the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) afford the parts of this recommendation seeking to use shared mission giving for environmental policy lobbying?

This raises questions unlikely to be asked at the General Assembly. It seems like there ought to be some sort of cost/benefit analysis to the ACSWP work. Does the end result justify the cost of producing it? Outside of GA junkies, is anyone reading these reports? If we really are being prophetic but are not having any impact, at what point do we discern that we are casting pearls before swine? Does GA adopting these recommendations actually support the ministry and witness of the entire church or does it only represent the strong arm of a few insiders? Again, it is too late for this particular study, but it does seem like those questions ought to be raised and addressed before assigning more.